What is Mahram and Non-Mahram in Islam?

Mahram is an Arabic term derived from ‘haraam’ which literally refers to something which is sacred or prohibited. In the terminology of Islamic Fiqh, a non-Mahram is a person with whom marriage is generally permissible. A Mahram is an unmarriageable person with whom marriage is totally unlawful at all times on the basis of kinship, whether he or she is of uterine relationship or not.

A person may be Mahram because of any of the three types of relationship; (1) blood ties (2) breastfeeding ties (3) and ties by marriage. Enumerating the types of Mahrams, the Quran says,

“Prohibited to you [for marriage] are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father’s sisters, your mother’s sisters, your brother’s daughters, your sister’s daughters, your [milk] mothers who nursed you, your sisters through nursing, your wives’ mothers, and your step-daughters under your guardianship [born] of your wives unto whom you have gone in. But if you have not consummated the marriage with them, there is no sin upon you. And [also prohibited are] the wives of your sons who are from your [own] loins, and that you take [in marriage] two sisters simultaneously, except for what has already occurred. Indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful” (4:23)

The following verse of Surah Noor also mentions some Mahrams,

“… and not to expose their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons…” (24:31)

According to the exegetes of the Quran, Mahrams by blood ties, in-laws and breastfeeding, as mentioned in the above mentioned Quranic verses or inferred by it are as follows;

Mahrams by blood ties

1. Parents, grandparents and further ancestors from males or females

2. Children, grandchildren and further descendants from males or females

3. Siblings

4. Siblings of parents, grandparents and further parents

5. Children and further descendants of siblings

6. paternal uncles and maternal uncles; they are Mahrams even though they are literally not mentioned in the verses, as they are like parents and given the same status as parents

Mahrams by in-laws or marriage include;

1. Parents, grandparents and further ancestors of spouse, whether they are ancestors from males or females

2. Children, grandchildren and further descendants of spouse, whether they are descendants from males or females

3. Spouse of parents, grandparents and further ancestors, be they males or females

4. Spouse of children, grandchildren and further descendants, be they males or females

Mahrams by Rada’ah (breastfeeding)

Mahrams by Rada’ah include;

1. Foster mother and further female ancestors

2. Foster siblings

Allama Alusi says, “the relationship of Mahram by Radaa’ah (breastfeeding) is that of Mahram by blood; which indicates that it is never permitted to marry because of that relationship of Mahram.” (Tafsir Alusi 18/143)

Imam Jassas said while commenting on this verse (24:31), “When Allah mentioned the fathers and that their marriage to these women is forbidden forever; this denotes that the same prohibition applies to other relationships of Mahram, such as the mother of the woman and those who are Mahrams by Radaa’ah” (Ahkam al-Quran by Jassas 3/317).

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